SpaceX, the first private company to dock with the International Space Station (ISS), pushes rocket engine technology to its outer limits with a record-breaking thrust-to-weight ratio.
Rumblings in McGregor, Texas, gave tribute to the development of a more efficient and powerful Merlin, such as was used in the recent mission to the ISS. Testing included multiple stops and restarts, requiring the engine to fire for 185 seconds with 147,000 pounds of thrust. According to aviation website Flightglobal, the improvement in rocket thruster performance allows SpaceX to become a major competitor by permitting the Falcon Heavy class to put larger payloads into geosynchronous transfer orbit.
Improving upon previous Merlin designs employed in the first three Falcon 9 flights, the Merlin 1D is faster, stronger, and less expensive to make than previous models, allowing for a higher thrust-to-weight ratio in addition to thriftiness. Thanks to significant changes in the Merlin 1d’s design, the engine was able to operate during testing as projected.
Speaking Monday, SpaceX founder Elon Musk noted that the latest project would likely push the boundaries of spaceflight and spec technology, hinting that the new rocket could far exceed expectations.
“This is another important milestone in our efforts to push the boundaries of space technology. With the Merlin 1D powering the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets, SpaceX will be capable of carrying a full range of payloads to orbit,” said Mr. Musk.
In an article from Aviation Week and Space Technology, SpaceX propulsion engineering vice president Tom Meuller elaborates on design changes by saying they’ve also increased nozzle expansion to 16 in comparison with 14.5 on the Merlin 1C. Mueller says he hopes the production engines will be even better than the developmental model sent to Texas. Air & Space magazine extols SpaceX’s decision to use the more cost-effective pintle type engine, such as was used on the Apollo mission. In addition to increased efficacy and affordability, the Merlin 1D is reusable.
SpaceX CEO and Chief Designer Elon Musk says “This is another important milestone in our efforts to push the boundaries of space technology…with the Merlin 1D powering the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets, SpaceX will be capable of carrying a full range of payloads to orbit.” The Merlin 1D allows for both financial considerations as well as the structural and thermal safety necessary to carry astronauts to infinity and beyond.
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